Heroes of Orbis: Dr. Hee Joon Kim

This is the talented Dr. Hee Joon Kim, an oculoplastic specialist, whose expertise enables her to transform lives every day. Dr. Kim was recently in Vietnam for our first in-person, patient-focused Flying Eye Hospital project since the pandemic – hear what she has to say and how she was “blown away” by her very first Orbis experience.

Dr. Joon Kim on board the Flying Eye Hospital with local partners in Can Tho, in May 2023.

At home in Atlanta, Joon Kim is Associate Professor of Oculoplastics, Orbital and Cosmetic Surgery at Emory Eye Center where she has been resolving eyelid, eye socket, and tear duct problems since 2010.

A firm believer in improving access to healthcare, Dr. Kim told us that organizations like Orbis "are the key to bridging the gap between the patients that need the care and the people who provide it”, and really inspire her and elevate her passion for doing global work.

We were thrilled when Dr. Kim joined our world-leading Volunteer Faculty on Flying Eye Hospital projects in Bangladesh and Vietnam in 2017 when she helped local partners improve their skills in conditions like congenital ptosis (droopy eyelid).

Dr. Kim’s Background and Career

After graduating from The University of Texas Medical School in Houston and completing her Ophthalmology Residency there, Dr. Kim embarked on a Fellowship in Oculoplastic Surgery at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

In her current role, the passionate physician cares for patients at Emory Eye Center, Emory at St. Joseph's Hospital, and Children’s Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston, while also mentoring residents and fellows at the Atlanta VA Medical Center and Grady Memorial Hospital.

She counts “droopy eyelids”, cancers and benign tumors of the eyelid and eye socket, broken eye sockets, eyelid lacerations, and pediatric conditions ranging from blocked tear ducts to repairing birth defects of the eye and eyelids among her areas of expertise.

When not teaching or in surgery, Dr. Kim contributes to important ophthalmic research. You may also spot her sitting courtside at an Atlanta Hawks game where she is one of the team’s physicians!

Dr. Kim standing proud in front of the tail of the Flying Eye Hospital

Dr. Kim in Chittagong, Bangladesh in 2017.

"Blown Away” by the Orbis Experience

We had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Kim again at the 2022 American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting in Chicago where she warmly reflected on her maiden teaching project on our Flying Eye Hospital in Bangladesh.

Sharing what stood out the most to her, she recalled: "I was just blown away really by three things. Of course, first is the Flying Eye Hospital. What a modern-day marvel. I mean you just have to see it to believe it. It really needs no elaboration.

Second was the people. From the staff ophthalmologists to the nurses to the videographer, everyone involved. No detail was overlooked, and their skill and their passion were infectious. But really, lastly, their mission of trying to reduce or eliminate global blindness.”

What most impressed Dr. Kim was seeing pediatric ophthalmologists, who had never seen an oculoplastic surgery before, doing the surgery themselves within the week!

She said: “From this crazy screening day where I am trying to tease out kids going blind versus tumors that could be life-threatening to the O.R where they’re actually just like sponges that absorb so much so quickly. And they’ve learned all these skills in a week. And it was humbling to see that.”

Dr. Kim added that detailed exams aren’t needed when it comes to treating ptosis. Only the power of observation. “It’s just little everyday things that they’re doing just like talking to their parents, how they’re looking at you, are they tilting their head back?"

During one of our Vietnam projects, she came across older children with very droopy eyelids and recalled how shy they were. She finds it amazing that once she lifts their eyelid, they can do things like walk normally and make eye contact all of a sudden.

Dr. Kim ended: “It’s not just about lifting the eyelid, it’s about having a life-long impact on their social interactions and their behavior altogether, and so you really get to change their lives with such a straightforward, simple surgery. That’s what I love doing every day. Seeing that.

Some powerful words shared by our oculoplastics superstar! We’d like to thank Dr. Kim for all her incredible work helping children and adults see the world around them.

Without skilled and compassionate professionals like her, we would not be able to put quality eye care within reach of the people who need it. We're looking forward to catching up with her on another sight-saving project in the near future.


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